What is Distracted Driving and How Does It Impact Your Insurance?

Distracted driver in a vehicle with a blue travel mug and sandwich in hand

Once upon a time, you had to pull your car over and find a payphone to make a call en route. With a cell phone in the pocket of almost every Alberta driver, laws had to come into place to address the issue of distracted driving. However, distracted driving does not only include cellphone use. There are a variety of activities that constitute distracted driving in the province.

Alberta’s distracted driving law applies to all vehicles and all roads in Alberta and restricts drivers from performing certain activities, even while stopped at a red light.

In order to protect yourself as a driver, as well as your insurance policy, it’s important to understand what these laws entail, what the penalties are, and how being caught for distracted driving can affect your insurance policy.

The Reality of Distracted Driving

Reading a quick text or jotting a quick note may seem like innocent things to do while driving but the reality is that certain activities require enough attention to distract you from safe driving and cause an accident. For example, reading a text message distracts you for at least five seconds – and it only takes three seconds of distraction to cause a car accident. When you think about it, three seconds is all it takes to turn your key and start your car.

According to a report by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in 2019, distracted driving fatalities have surpassed those caused by impaired driving in many parts of Canada.

What Constitutes as Distracted Driving in Alberta?

According to the RCMP, distracted driving involves more than just using your phone while driving. Distracted driving includes any activity that can affect your judgment and prevents you from driving safely.

Here are examples of activities that are considered to be distracted driving:

  • Talking, texting, or browsing the web on a cellphone
  • Programming a GPS
  • Reading a map
  • Reading a book or newspaper
  • Watching videos
  • Operating an electronic device (MP3 player, laptop, video camera, video entertainment displays)
  • Grooming (applying makeup, brushing teeth, etc.)
  • Listening to loud music
  • Writing or sketching

Even if your driving performance is not affected by the above activities, you can be charged with distracted driving. 

Distracted driving charges are often coupled with a moving violation and can result in two tickets. Moving violations include any violation of a traffic law while your vehicle is in motion such as speeding, running a stop sign or red light, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Police also have the discretion to lay charges if you are engaged in any other activity that impairs your ability to drive safely such as being distracted by your pet or if you allow anything to interfere with your access to your vehicle’s controls or obstruct your view in any direction.

Activities Not Restricted Under Alberta Law

Young woman drives car safely using bluetooth ear piece for hands-free phone calls

Even though the police can charge you for any activity considered to be distracting, there are certain activities that are not restricted under the distracted driving law.

These activities include:

  • Using a cellphone in a hands-free mode such as through speakerphone or Bluetooth (as long as the phone is not in your hand or being operated by your hands)
  • Drinking beverages or eating snacks
  • Smoking or vaping
  • Talking with other passengers
  • Listening to a portable audio player that is set up before you begin driving
  • Calling 911 or other emergency services
  • Using CB radios when you are required to stay in contact with an employer
  • Looking at display screens such as a GPS navigation system (that is affixed to the vehicle and preprogrammed) or gauges, instruments, devices, or systems that provide information about your vehicle
  • An alcohol ignition interlock device

However, if activities like eating, smoking, and talking to other passengers affect the safety of your driving, you can be pulled over and charged for distracted driving.

What are the Penalties for Distracted Driving?

In Alberta, the penalty for distracted driving is a $300 fine and 3 demerit points off your license. After receiving a distracted driving conviction, you may also find it difficult to get full auto coverage at a reasonable rate – your insurance could go up by as much as 25% due to a distracted driving ticket.

How Does Distracted Driving Impact Automobile Insurance?

On top of the fine for distracted driving, you’re going to face higher insurance premiums as well. While a $300 fine may not seem like a lot of money, the hike to your insurance rates can get costly.

To give you an idea of what this increase could look like, an approximate low rate for an Alberta driver in downtown Calgary is around $2200 per year. The lowest rate with one distracted driving charge is approximately $2900 per year. That’s an increase of $700. Added in with the $300 fine, you’re looking at $1000 for a distracted driving charge. With two distracted driving charges, the premium can increase to $3200. Now that’s an additional $400.

These numbers are very approximate and, depending on your insurance coverage, could end up being a more significant increase in your automobile policy. Needless to say, the effects distracted driving charges can have on your auto insurance policy are certainly not worth the risk of performing distracting activities.

I’ve Gotten a Distracted Driving Ticket: What Do I Do Now?

If you do receive a distracted driving ticket, you should call your Edmonton insurance broker right away. It’s important to know right away how this conviction will affect your insurance.

Our knowledgeable insurance brokers at ARC Insurance can help you navigate this stressful event. We can break down the changes that will occur to your auto insurance policy and help you prepare financially for the changes.

If you have any questions about distracted driving tickets and how they can affect your insurance, feel free to contact us today!